At former Dixie’s on Grand Ave., Kenton House to open with gold leaf bling, art from St. Paul artists – Twin Cities

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As the first residents of the Kenton House — the five stories of new luxury apartments at the site previously occupied by the longstanding Dixie’s on Grand restaurant — began moving in Friday at 695 Grand Ave. in St. Paul, artist Seitu Jones was on hand to oversee the installation of 18 giant aluminum leaves together spanning 95 feet across the building’s exterior.

The leaves, painted metallic gold, are a bit of a departure for Grand Avenue, and meant to illustrate that the corridor — known for its mix of residences and boutique-style shops — still has plenty of luster, even at a time when brick-and-mortar retail has lost ground to online shopping.

Jones is well aware that some neighboring residents had no desire to see Kenton House rise two stories above adjacent properties, and several stories higher than Dixie’s, the squat eatery it replaced. Debate over the project culminated in a close rezoning vote by the divided St. Paul City Council, which voted 4-3 two years ago to allow the project to move forward.

Jones said he took inspiration from the falling autumn leaves of an Irish oak tree for his design.

“I wanted to give it some bling. I have been doing pieces with leaves — collard green leaves, mustard leaves — in different parts of the country, and this was an opportunity to do something that related to the background of the owner and the restaurant there. … There’s a whole couple different layers of things,” said Jones on Thursday.

Two restaurants, Kenton House

The major partner in question is Peter Kenefick, longtime proprietor of Dixie’s on Grand, which opened in 1985 but did not reopen with the new development. Instead, Kenefick will relaunch two popular restaurants — Saji-Ya and Emmett’s Public House — at ground level. The land is now owned by the overall project partnership, led by developer Reuter Walton.

Kenefick said the two restaurants likely will re-open in early October once final set-up such as duct work is complete.

As for the giant gold leaves, “I saw the final sculpture in the warehouse last Saturday,” said Kenefick, in an email. “It is going to be a beautiful addition to Grand Avenue.”

Real estate developer Ari Parritz said in addition to the two restaurants, the Kenton House will be home to a new concept in on-site baking and coffee, details of which will be formally announced “in the next couple weeks.”

A fourth retail location spanning 1,100 square feet at ground level is vacant and ready for lease.

St. Paul artists

Parritz said about half of the 80 units in the market-rate Kenton House have been pre-leased. New residents will find odes to St. Paul artistry throughout the building.

Shannon Brunette, founder of and a consultant on the project, she’s worked closely with Kenefick and Jones on curation and project management for both the interior and exterior art work, which feature several St. Paul-area artists.

The Dow Art Gallery and Picture Framing on University Avenue in St. Paul provided the framing for all of the interior art, and several of the artists are associated with the Dow Gallery.

“There’s quite a few local artists, artists who have a connection to St. Paul, with works inside the building — at least a dozen, and it’s mostly original art work,” Brunette said. “I’ve worked with Seitu for a long time on public art, but it’s one of my first projects in this realm. It’s one small way to get resources back into the community.”

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